How to abolish the Home Office: part 1

As ever, this latest proposal seems to be suffering from ‘not invented here’ syndrome, whereby proposals which are of themselves sensible get nowhere because their promotion would require politicians and other opinion leaders to take a reputational risk on backing them. That is, of course, a wider problem with the way we develop and select our politicians, which actively rewards groupthink and, effectively, cowardice-as-tactic.

Here, though, is way to employ little-used legislation — the provisions under the Sustainability Communities Act 2007 — for Labour and other progressive parties (law does not cover Scotland or NI) to challenge the Home Office’s hostile environment by proposing an alternative to its currently deeply flawed and distrusted ‘settled status’ scheme.

I set it out in the (draft)form of the legal application that local authorities wanting to get involved will need to approach the government.

Of course, the likelihood of the Minister agreeing to the proposals coming in from all over the county is small, but that is really the point, at least to start with; offering a credible, economically efficient alternative to the current mess is also a political step (and can form a manifesto commitment), especially when the appeals mechanism, which requires the government to come to an understanding is taken into account.

And of course, as per the title, this is step 1: an effective political statement, with legislative traction, that the Home Office is not fir for purpose, and needs in time to have all its powers stripped, or be abolished.

So here it is, as an Issuu doc, but copied and pasted below for those who can’t do Issuu. Please feel free to promote.

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

2 Marsham Street

London, SW1P 4DF

xx/xx/2019

Sustainable Communities Act 2007: A Proposal relating to the impacts on communities of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union

This is a Proposal made by xxxxxxx [Metropolitan]Borough/District/City Council in response to your invitation under section 5A(b) (subsequent invitations) of the above Act.

Whilst this proposal relates to the area of xxxxx, I am aware of similar proposals from other local authorities, and appreciate therefore that you may wish to make a decision on this proposal jointly with decisions on other such proposals, especially given the decentralization of resourcing required to implement the new powers sought.

The Proposal

The proposal is in two parts.

First, the Council seeks a new power, in line with the provisions of the Act, allowing it to confer (indefinite leave to remain (‘settled status) on citizens of the European Union (excluding Ireland), other European Economic Area countries and Switzerland who reside within the area administered by the Council, and who in the judgment of the Council meet the suitability requirements set out by the government in its documents ‘EU Settlement Scheme: suitability requirements’ (April 1st 2019)[1] and Immigration Rules EU: EU, other EEA and Swiss Citizens and family members (published 2016, updated October 7th 2019)[2]

Second, the Council seeks the award of a fair proportion of the resources saved by central government, through the transfer of the power sought from the Home Office to this (and other) local authorities, such that it can carry out this new area of activity in alignment with its current administrative and service functions, but without detriment to them.

Rationale for the proposal

In line with the guidance and accompanying issued by your Ministry ‘Community Engagement and Brexit: guidance for local authorities’ (March 18th 2019)[3], this and other councils already have a duty to publicize and promote the Home Office procedures for the award (or refusal) of settled status, as well as a duty to ensure that applications are made on behalf of looked after children who are non-UK/Irish EU citizens.

In this context, and in the wider context of the guidance, under which councils are expected to work with government on the development of socially stronger, more confident and integrated communities by creating places that are better, safer and stronger”, it makes sense for a council such as ours to be given the new power sought, such that the needs of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens residing within our boundaries be met at a more local level.

This is for two main reasons.

First, the council already holds data on many EU residents as a result of its normal electoral administrative, council tax and other services, and is thus in a position to verify the conditions of settled status quickly and efficiently, once residents seeking such status approach it in line with the publicity duty we already carry. The overall process, devolved in this way, will be much mmore efficient than the current system, which depends on the individual tracing and presenting personal details, some of which may be lost. Providing this council with a fair share of the resouces expended centrally will create a more cost-effective service overall.

Second, while Ministry is entitled to state, in its guidance, that “The Home Office is making sure that the [settled status] scheme is accessible and capable of handling vulnerable applicants with flexibility and sensitivity”, our feedback to date from residents is that this is not how the scheme is being regarded; instead, residents associate the scheme with the so-called ‘hostile environment’, seeing it in the context of recent media coverage on seemingly irrational and insensitive immigration decisions. Whatever the truth behind these perceptions, this council feels it incumbent to seek to reduce the fears felt by EU and EEA citizens needing to go through the settled status process, and it is our own settled view that this is best done by a localization of the scheme, so that it can be run where need be with a ‘friendly face’, and in a way facilitated by the existing data held.

Consultation

This proposal is rooted in the experiences and sentiments of EU residents who have, or will need to, go through the settled status scheme. These sentiments, especially fear of suddenly disrupted lives, have been reported directly to officers or through councillors in their day-tp-day engagement with constituents. We have also had contact with other councils in our region and beyond, where similar developments have been taking places, and council leaders and relevant portfolio holders have come to a collective view that the council has a duty, even as set out under your Ministry’s guidance, to respond in the manner we now do.

Next Steps

I look forward to the publication of your decision and reasons in relation to this proposal as set out in the Regulations.

In light of the significance of the issue facing I hope that you will make an early response, so that the council can start to use any new pow conferred well before the deadline set by government of December 2020 for settled status applications, and so that EU and EEA citizens meeting the scheme’s conditions can, after what for many has been a very worrying period, relax in the knowledge that this Council is dealing with their case efficiently and with due sensitivity.

Yours sincerely

xxxxxx

Leader of the Council

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791597/EUSS_suitability_guidance_v1.0.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-appendix-eu

[3] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/community-engagement-and-eu-exit-guidance-for-local-authorities#eusettlementscheme

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Paul Cotterill

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.